In the deciding game for a spot in the UEFA Europa League, Ajax soundly defeated APOEL Nicosia. After a 1-0 halftime score, the Amsterdam team won its last Champions League pool match of the season 4-0, which evens the biggest victory ever in this UEFA tournament.
Compared to the lost match at PSG, Ajax had a completely different defense. With Joël Veltman back on the European stage after his suspension, Niklas Moisander back on the squad and Nick Viergever replacing Nicolai Boilesen, Ajax needed to hang on to third place in Group F of the Champions League against APOEL Nicosia, who was one point behind Ajax and in fourth place. On Cyprus, Ajax had stranded at a 1-1 tie. Should this same score be on the scoreboard after 90 minutes of play on Wednesday, the Ajax would still go through to the Europa League. And the chance of that happening, according to the visiting coach Giorgos Donis, was big. He had said beforehand – his words are on the UEFA site – that he didn’t feel confident in his team’s fate: “We most probably don’t stand a very good chance”, he predicted.
His prognosis came true. Ajax had, by far, the most possession in the first half. The highest percentage was 75% for the home team versus 25% for APOEL. But although the Amsterdam team had the most possession, they were also sloppy. However, the Cypriots weren’t able to create any real opportunities. In truth, Ajax had some difficulty with APOEL’ 5-3-2 line-up in the beginning.
The dominance was only concretely visible on the scoreboard in the last minute of the first half. With a beautiful play, Lasse Schöne sent APOEL’s defense astray, served Milik, who tripped on his Cypriot opponent in the penalty kick area. Spanish referee Carlos Velasco Carballo didn’t hesitate and pointed to the spot. Schöne embraced the penalty and shot – just outside of keeper Pardo’s reach – perfectly in. After that, the Spaniard whistled for halftime. The Amsterdam team couldn’t have chosen a better moment to take the lead.
In the second half, the Cypriots urgently needed to take more risks if they wanted to end the evening on a positive note. This gave Ajax some space - space that the offense was able to take advantage of. In the fiftieth minute, Milik had the chance to score the 2-0 goal, but after sending his shot to the keeper, he passed the rebound to Schöne. The Dane increased the lead with a crisp shot. Three minutes later, another goal was scored. After a great play by Ricardo Kishna, Davy Klaassen scored with a beautiful header, 3-0.
With Riedewald in for Andersen, Ajax took more distance from APOEL. Arek Milik scored in the 73rd minute, 4-0. Ajax, with Richairo Zivkovic in for Arek Milik for the last few minutes, and thus making his Ajax 1 debut, hunted for the 5-0 goal, which would have been the biggest Champions League victory in history. But this record wasn’t broken, but the big win evened the 2011 achievement when Dinamo Zagreb gave the Amsterdam team a beating with the same score.
On Monday, the draw will determine which team Ajax will face in the Europa League after the winter break.